After a shocking loss to Auburn to open a three-game homestand Thursday night, the last thing the LSU men’s basketball team could afford to do Saturday was look ahead.
While a matchup with top-ranked and undefeated Kentucky loomed Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, the Tigers couldn’t even take a sneak peek.
With Alabama coming in with an eye on trying to duplicate what an aggressive Auburn team did to LSU two nights earlier, Kentucky, and its gaudy 23-0 record, would have to wait.
But when LSU successfully put the setback against Auburn behind it and secured a 71-60 victory over Alabama to snap its first two-game losing streak of the season, the wait was over.
There wasn’t a moment, especially after losing to Auburn, the Tigers could think about Tuesday night’s game.
“With the season we’re having, we weren’t really thinking about Kentucky,” freshman guard Jalyn Patterson said after making his first career start. “We were thinking only about (Alabama). But yeah, we’re real excited to play them.”
The juices will surely be flowing after Kentucky matched the best start by a Southeastern Conference team in 50 years with a 68-61 victory Saturday night at Florida. The 1965-66 Kentucky team also started 23-0, but the streak was snapped in its next outing by Tennessee.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game, but this is what we signed up for,” Patterson said. “So we’ll try to play our best and hopefully get the win.”
LSU coach Johnny Jones can only hope that his team, which has suffered through periods of lapses at inopportune times this season, can play with the same intensity it did in the win against Alabama.
Getting the Tigers’ attention in practice Friday with a couple of lineup changes, which included Patterson starting in place of Josh Gray, and sixth man Tim Quarterman getting a start as well, LSU responded.
Even though Alabama managed to whittle a 17-point second-half deficit to just two with just more than nine minutes remaining, LSU never trailed in the game and pulled away late.
One of the things that stood out was the Tigers’ perimeter defense after being torched by Auburn’s guards two night earlier, partly because of the energy Quarterman and Patterson — and Keith Hornsby — provided on that end of the floor.
“Alabama, if you go back and look, they didn’t have a lot of assists (five),” Jones said. “But they have a lot of individual scorers, and those guys shoot a high field-goal percentage.
“They can play one-on-one, and they can make plays, they can make baskets. You can go down the line, and you have to defend and guard against that. And I thought we did a good job of that (Saturday).”
Alabama’s three-guard lineup was 12-of-37 from the field, going just 2-of-13 from 3-point range.
Another key was LSU taking better care of the basketball. The Tigers had only 12 turnovers, their third-lowest total of the season.
The only area of concern was another poor outing at the free-throw line. LSU was only 13-of-27 before the Tigers hit 10 of their final 11 going down the stretch to finish a more-respectable 23-of-38.
The biggest thing, however, was the edge LSU didn’t play with against Auburn was there Saturday, which will be needed again Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be a big game for us,” said forward Jordan Mickey, who recorded his 13th double-double of the season with 24 points and 12 rebounds. “This was a good game for us, but we have to put it behind us and focus our attention on Tuesday.”
“We look forward to the challenge,” Jones said. “It’s one of those games that I’m sure a lot of people are looking at. When you have the No. 1 team coming to your home floor or wherever you’re playing, it’s special.”
Follow Sheldon Mickles on Twitter @MicklesAdvocate.